An interview with Ioan Hefin

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The Welsh actor Ioan Hefin, who has worked for over twenty years in theatre, radio, and television, successfully completed his one-man show ‘You Should Ask Wallace’ for Theatr na n’Óg in October and will be touring with it in 2010. In addition to several other major projects, notably a BBC TV series and university teaching, Ioan is narrating the Corvus podcast series.

Ioan has been kind enough to answer some questions.

What first got you interested in acting? Despite the Hollywood glitter, it’s surely not an easy way to make a living.

I often think about the answer to this question! I didn’t like drama initially but got into it while studying music at university. I realised that I’d never cut it as a musician so I fancied trying the equally daunting task of making a living as an actor. Why do musicians have to spend their time in dark, damp pits while the actors get to wallow in the spotlights?

It’s obviously not an easy way to make a living – but the constant insecurity seems to suit my personality. I’ve tried the alternative, and the security of a regular wage doesn’t fire my ambition.

You’ve played a large number of very different roles in your career. When you prepare a part, how do you generally work? Is empathy a crucial part of the process?

Empathy has to exist in some form, but it can also be an antagonistic empathy. I enjoy being taken to areas of study that are consequential and would not normally be a part of my life without the variable nature of casting. The way I prepare for different parts varies from production to production. I’ve recently started to increase the intensity of my research and preparation – I’d like to think that I’m finding some a different kind of maturity at last!

You’re bilingual in English and Welsh and have often acted in Welsh-language productions for radio, television, and stage. Twenty years from now, will there still be performances in Welsh? How important is this to you?

Mmm – interesting question. I feel privileged not to have been a monoglot actor and I’ve even experienced one peregrination into French language television drama and my theatre travels have taken me to Ireland, Iceland and Italy. Language is an intrinsic part of performance and I love the way it influences the characterisation and interpretation and affects the melody of a performance. Working in a minority language has a different cultural impact and carries a different political and historical resonance. I see no reason why Welsh language work won’t still be as strong in 2030. In fact, I think it will be stronger. The Welsh Language National Theatre is currently heavily subsidised. Perhaps it’s even reached the point that the work is over dependant on the financial support. When not challenged, some of the work can appear stifled, censored and lazy but I guess this isn’t exclusive to the Welsh language.

Are there any types of stories or characters which particularly interest you?

I enjoy venturing into subject areas that expose my ignorance. Acting opportunities are often the catalysts of unexpected personal discoveries. I can’t think of any other area of employment that gives me such a breadth covering history, philosophy, psychology, politics, human nature, religion, physicality, emotional intelligence, nature, sex, death, life and any thing in between. I try not to be judgemental or prejudicial about any subject area or any character type. We all have a range of personalities within us.

What do you do when you don’t like a character you have to play? Does it matter?

A number of elements have an impact here. Is it a short contract or a long term contract?!

I find it much easier to sustain a character during a short-term contract. Sustaining a characterisation has more to do with discipline than liking or disliking. I’ve enjoyed playing some very interesting characters that I would never include in my group of friends.

Do you prefer film work or live theatre? What do you see as the important differences between them?

Bring on my cliché. I prefer the nature of the work in a theatre production – and the salary of filming work! Again, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience work in a number of different genres that call upon the same core skills but utilised in very different ways. The differences are relatively obvious, but I’m driven more by what they share. You have to keep on top of your game. This industry has the capacity to gift employment to practitioners who are willing to keep learning and exploring and to progress for as long as they have good health, memory, ambition and desire.

You’ve just completed a successful one-man show as Alfred Russel Wallace, which will also go on tour next year. Isn’t it very strenuous to be up there on stage entirely on your own? How do you manage to direct yourself, so to speak?

‘Go Ask Wallace’ is one of the most fulfilling productions I’ve ever undertaken. Driven by pure narrative and not much theatricality, the subject matter is entirely exposed and stands by virtue of the astounding life of an inspirational explorer. I’m very lucky to have the directorial guidance of Geinor Styles who is equally transfixed by Wallace’s life story, but the prospect of having to navigate yourself through a performance with one person on the cast list is equally frightening and stimulating. I can’t wait to revisit the show again next year.

You’ll also be lecturing at university next year. Will you be teaching future actors? I’m under the impression that method acting is no longer popular. Is there another approach that you use?

I’ll be working on the delivery of the Theatre in Education unit at Trinity College Carmarthen. The course there has an excellent breadth of content for aspiring actors, technicians, designers and directors. A natural, instinctive performance is what audience members expect – they don’t care what method, if any, has been utilised to achieve this performance. You need to find what works for you.

I’m a huge advocate of Theatre in Education – I just wish all drama schools would treat TIE with the status it deserves.

Corvus is your first podcast series. Is narrating a podcast very different than performing on radio? What are the challenges of this new medium?

I’ve worked on a radio drama series and a radio narration and I guess the biggest difference with podcasting is the independence. You have the freedom to be a bit more adventurous but don’t have the assurance of knowing if it’s the right interpretation. Being autonomous also means being a technician, editor, PA, director and producer!

And finally, you’re volunteering your time for Corvus—a considerable amount of time indeed. You’ve even purchased equipment to record the podcasts, which are being released as free downloads. What is motivating you?

The availability of the recordings is a social motivation.

Recording in South Wales, sending the chapters to an American living in Germany and then accessing the end result on a platform available all over the world is a technical motivation.

Trying something new and exploring different challenges is a performance motivation.

With Corvus, the biggest motivation is a personal one. I love the writing. It has a depth, complexity and a style that I find captivating. The text commands respect. Pitting myself against writing of this quality is exciting for me. I sincerely hope my readings are a worthy interpretation.